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  #400 (permalink)  
Old 30th March 2017, 12:52
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Ukraine's ambassador to Poland sees Russian hand in attack on consulate in Lutsk Ukraine's Ambassador to Poland Andriy Deshchytsia suspects Russia is certainly responsible for an attack on Poland's Consulate General building in the Ukrainian city of Lutsk, according to RMF24.
UNIAN 30 March 2017

This is an attack on Poland's Consulate General in Lutsk, but at the same time it is an attack on Polish-Ukrainian relations, which have been developing very well. Apparently, vandalizing monuments wasn't enough – this did not help to drive a wedge between Ukrainians and Poles, and now we see a new phase of attacks on the consulates and diplomatic relations," the ambassador told journalists on arrival at the Polish Foreign Ministry's building where he was invited in connection with the incident, RMF24 reported.

An investigation into the case has been launched already, he said.
"The parties that are not interested in good Polish-Ukrainian relations are behind the attack. Undoubtedly, it's Russia," Deshchytsia concluded.

As UNIAN reported earlier, there was an explosion on the fourth floor of the building of Poland's Consulate General in Lutsk in the early hours of March 29.

The SBU Security Service of Ukraine said that a shot from an RPG-26 grenade launcher had reportedly caused the damage. No victims were reported. The SBU is probing several theories behind the incident, including a terrorist attack. "Only one side benefits from provocations against the Republic of Poland, which happen from time to time in Ukraine – this is the Russian Federation whose 'pattern' is seen from afar," the agency said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko instructed law enforcement agencies to urgently take all measures to investigate into the attack on Poland's Consulate General. He also ordered to beef up security at foreign diplomatic offices to prevent further provocations.

"It has just become known that the special services have already traced the terrorists – there is a lead, but details are not disclosed in the interests of the investigation," the television news service TSN reported on Wednesday.

Poroshenko also had a telephone call with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda during which he suggested that Polish specialists be involved in the investigation of the attack on the Consulate General in Lutsk. Both leaders agreed that the friendly Polish-Ukrainian relations should not be affected by any provocation.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, in turn, expressed his indignation at the provocation against Poland's Consulate General. "It's a mean act committed by those who stand against our friendship with the Republic of Poland. We are doing our best to have the guilty punished," he stressed.

Meanwhile, Polish prosecutors have started their own investigation into the incident, Radio Poland said. https://www.unian.info/politics/1849...-in-lutsk.html
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Old 17th February 2018, 17:55
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Ukraine and Poland. What next?
EUROMAIDN PRESS Espreso TV Petro Kraliuk 2018/02/09

Vasyl Stus in his “Camp Notebook,” written in 1982, noted: “I am enthralled by Polish victories of the spirit and I regret that I am not a Pole.” At that time a huge mass of Poles, united by the Solidarity trade union, was engaged in an unequal struggle with a totalitarian regime.

Poland markedly outpaced Ukraine then. It became one of the first “cells” of the socialist camp to overthrow a totalitarian regime. It joined NATO, it became a member of the EU. With the help of the West, it was able to transform its economy, becoming a relatively prosperous country.

Will Poland bring about the collapse of the European Union?

And suddenly, in recent years, Poland has turned into a “headache” for the EU. Right wing parties have come to power, who have rejected liberal values and who are adopting populist measures. Democracy is being curtailed in the country. On December 20, 2017, the European Commission initiated a disciplinary proceeding against Poland for the controversial judicial reform that is being implemented in the country. Poland may be deprived of the right to vote in this community. Indeed, the Polish leadership has caused a crisis that could lead to the collapse or reorganization of the EU.

An unfortunate parallel comes to mind. Just as Poland once contributed to the collapse of the Socialist camp and the Soviet Union, it could now lead to the collapse of the European Union. Incidentally, in Poland today comparisons are frequently made between the USSR and the EU. At the same time, Polish leadership does not refuse considerable subsidies from the European Union.

Unfortunately, similar tendencies are characteristic not only of Poland but also of several recent EU members, especially Hungary and the Czech Republic. This is a phenomenon that has not yet been fully understood by political science. Russia has played a certain role, exerting influence in these countries through its intelligence services and propaganda. However, this factor should not be exaggerated. It rather plays the role of a catalyst for processes that are conditioned by other factors — social, demographic, cultural, and so on. In this context, one must also understand the political processes in these countries. One example is the recent adoption in Poland of amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance, which was much discussed in Ukraine. These amendments provide for punishment for denying the “crimes of Ukrainian nationalists.” They are interpreted very broadly in Poland, making it possible to include many manifestations of the national liberation struggle of Ukrainians under their wording.

Finally, the amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance have generated negative reactions in other countries, especially since they reveal an attempt to ignore instances of the persecution of Jews by Poles.

Why has another problematic initiative appeared in Poland?

In general, it would have been surprising not to expect that the amendments adopted by the Sejm and the Senate would not be signed by the president. He has not been restrained by the negative reactions from Israel and the United States, much less by those of Ukraine. The official statement by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on these amendments has not and probably will not generate an adequate response from the Polish side.

There is still some hope in the Constitutional Court, where President Andrzej Duda promised to submit legislative changes. But it is important to keep in mind that, after the recent judicial reforms in Poland, this institution is heavily influenced by the current government. At most, the Constitutional Court may become sort of a lightning rod that proposes certain amendments. Perhaps this is what will happen because there seems to have been no other reason for the president to send this law to the Court.

All this resembles a political game. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and its leader Jarosław Kaczyński remain “clean” since they did “what they could.” “Their” Sejm, Senate and president supported the legislative initiative, which pleases the nationalistically minded Poles — the party’s electorate. The Constitutional Court is a so-called “independent body,” which can afford to take certain “liberties.”

Naturally, the adopted amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance are first of all a tactical move to mobilize the conservative and nationalistic electorate around the PiS party and its allies. True, this is being done to the accompaniment of demagogic statements about the search for “historical truth.” Such actions are effective and support for the PiS party is growing.

These amendments also have the goal of discouraging manifestations of national consciousness by Ukrainians who are living, working and studying in Poland. And there are more than 1 million of them!

In the end, these amendments are another attempt by the current Polish authorities to gauge the reaction of their partners to the curtailment of freedom of speech in the country.

Should Ukrainians be concerned about yet another act by Polish authorities regarding the search for “historical truth”? It must be understood that this is political manipulation that has been taking place and will continue.

Ukrainians should bid farewell to their “Polish illusions.” For some time now Poland has no longer been “Ukraine’s lawyer” in Europe. It will soon need a lawyer of its own. And it is not worth hoping that this country will help Ukraine integrate into the European space. For that we need to seek other partners that are playing a leading role in the European Union. They are primarily Germany and France. Of course, we should not forget the eastern EU countries that support us –for example, Lithuania.

Ukraine should build a purely pragmatic relationship with Poland without any symbolic “brotherhood” and “strategic partnership.” The Ukrainian government, aside from making loud statements about the actions of Polish right-wing politicians (although such statements also are needed) should seriously address the issue of the troubled border trade with Poland and the question of Polish recruitment of Ukrainian workers and students from Ukraine, as well as the protection of Ukrainian citizens who are temporarily or permanently residing in Poland. And it should not forget the Polish citizens of Ukrainian descent.

And, finally, it needs to remind both the Polish government and the EU countries that it is Ukraine that is defending European values in a war with Russia. Perhaps there will be liberals in Poland and in Europe who will recognize this reality and will say they regret they are not Ukrainians.

Historian Petro Kraliuk is vice-rector at the National University of Ostroh Academy
Translated by: Anna Mostovych
Source: Radio Svoboda
Ukraine and Poland. What next? -Euromaidan Press |
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Old 17th April 2018, 21:25
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This is anecdotal information but during my visit to Poland last year all of my acquaintances seemed to appreciate Ukraine very much. These are my relatives that live very near the border of Southern Poland and Ukraine.
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Old 22nd April 2018, 20:25
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A Polish pickle
The EU should get tough on its illiberal democracies
Flagrant rule-breakers should lose EU subsidies
THE ECONOMIST Apr 19th 2018

THERE was once no brighter star in Europe. Since shaking off communism in 1989 Poland has rivalled the bounciest Asian tigers in GDP growth. It has become a vital NATO ally. But it is also on the front line of what France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, calls a “European civil war” over the rule of law.

The optimism that attended the EU’s great eastward expansion in 2004 has given way, in some places, to angry, nationalist “illiberal democracy”. In Hungary, having nobbled the courts, media and public prosecutor, Viktor Orban is squeezing civil society and using state (and EU) funds to nurture oligarchs. Romania’s leaders endlessly seek to weaken anti-graft laws that might otherwise ensnare them.

But the gravest challenge is in Poland. Since taking office in 2015 the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has stacked the courts, skewed public media and stuffed the bureaucracy with supporters . Its judicial reforms flagrantly violate EU treaties. That matters not only for Polish democracy: EU countries have to trust each other’s courts to uphold the law that underpins the single market. So last year the European Commission invoked Article 7, an untested instrument that obliges governments to assess whether one of them is systematically undermining the rule of law.

In theory Article 7 can strip an offending country of its EU voting rights. In practice the unanimous vote that it requires is impossible to secure, partly because illiberal governments protect each other. So the commission is eyeing the EU budget, much of which is spent on transfers from rich countries to poorer ones. The last seven-year budget granted Poland nearly one-fifth of the EU’s cohesion funds. That looks like leverage.

Negotiations over the next budget begin in May. It can be harnessed in two ways. One, other member states can take a tough line with Poland in the haggling ahead. Parliaments in countries like Germany and the Netherlands already find it galling to send so much of their taxpayers’ cash to governments that flout the rules. A second idea is to establish a way to suspend payments to governments that violate the rule of law.

The EU faces a dilemma. Go soft on PiS’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and Europe’s next would-be autocrat will be emboldened. But pushing too hard risks bolstering PiS’s claim that meddling outsiders are undermining Polish democracy. As the giant of eastern Europe, Poland matters. The EU’s growing east-west cleavages over migration and money cannot be healed if it is sent out into the cold.

A flicker of hope
Perhaps prodded into action by the coming budgetary talks, PiS has lately tweaked some of its judicial reforms. The changes, on matters like judges’ retirement ages, are the first signs of compromise since 2015. But they are largely cosmetic. The EU should (quietly) insist on much more before it considers lifting Article 7. Poland’s rulers must take steps to revive the rule of law, starting with the restoration of improperly fired judges on the constitutional tribunal. If PiS does not budge, the commission should be creative with the budget. Poland receives three times as much from EU funds as it pays in, and those subsidies go disproportionately to PiS’s rural supporters. They need to understand that they cannot enjoy the benefits of a club at the same time as they trample on its rules.

This week Mr Macron repeated his call for a “hard core” of EU countries to pursue integration if others ignore their commitments. Poland’s government says it does not want to be left behind in Europe’s slow lane. But if it continues to undermine independent institutions and violate the rule of law, that is what will happen. https://www.economist.com/news/leade...-its-illiberal
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Old 22nd April 2018, 22:19
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Poland under PiS
Change of State
The hollowing out of the rule of law is doing lasting damage
THE ECONOMIST WARSAW Apr 21st 2018

FOR a glimpse of Poland under the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party, tune in to the news on the state television channel, Telewizja Polska (TVP). The opening sequence, a computer-animated tour of Polish landmarks, homes in on the clock tower of Warsaw’s royal castle. The capital’s most recognisable building, the towering Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science, is nowhere to be seen. Then the anchors appear, and proceed to praise PiS slavishly while branding its critics treacherous crypto-communists.

This combination of subtle and brazen nationalist revisionism captures the two-and-a-half years of PiS rule. The party has purged the public administration, made it illegal to accuse the “Polish nation” of complicity in the Holocaust, and peddled conspiracy theories about the aeroplane crash in 2010 which killed then-president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others outside Smolensk, in Russia. It has turned a blind eye to chauvinism among its supporters, while prosecuting peaceful counter-protesters at the monthly commemorations of the Smolensk disaster led by Lech’s twin brother, Jaroslaw , who is PiS’s chairman.

Most troubling, PiS has neutered the constitutional tribunal and given lawmakers and ministers more power over the appointment of judges, threatening their independence. It has sown deep divisions within Poland and with its allies in the European Union, as well as with Israel and America. It has transformed Poland from a poster-boy of post-communist transition into the EU’s problem child. In March a judge in Ireland refused to extradite a Polish defendant to his homeland, worried that he might not get a fair trial.

And PiS isn’t done. Mr Kaczynski, who holds no office other than MP yet acts as Poland’s de facto leader, recently told a right-wing weekly that there are “parts of our reality which must not merely be modernised but ploughed over”. His party, he mused, needs at least three terms in office.

That prospect sends liberals scrambling for a stiff drink. It is a headache for the EU. In December the European Commission triggered proceedings against Poland under Article 7 of the EU treaty, which could ultimately lead to suspending its voting rights. In March, after the commission rejected Poland’s justifications of its reforms, the government proposed softening them, for instance by limiting the justice minister’s power to replace district-court presidents. But even if PiS yields further, the grief it has caused Poland will not go away.

The nationalist international
At first glance, the party’s ascendancy follows a familiar script. From Viktor Orban in Hungary to Donald Trump in America, populists have converted economic malaise and fear of immigrants into electoral success. Yet Poland departs from that script in important ways. Immigration is negligible; the wave of Syrian migrants in 2015, which initially crossed through Hungary, never touched Poland. Meanwhile, Poland’s economic performance has been nothing short of extraordinary.

The economy has grown for 26 consecutive years. GDP per person has nearly trebled since 1990 (see chart). Since 2000 manufacturing’s share of the economy has grown, and inequality has fallen. Poland was the only EU country to weather the crisis of 2008-09 without a recession.

https://www.economist.com/sites/defa...421_EUC288.png

For an illustration, drive north from Warsaw into Mazowsze. The region is as gorgeous as a Chopin concerto, an undulating quilt of cereal fields and birch groves, but in the 1990s its towns were unromantically down-at-heel. Today it is dotted with handsome farmsteads. Tractors are still mostly Polish-made Ursuses, but now come with air-conditioning and sound systems. In the cobbled market square of Pultusk, a town of 20,000, and down the road in the village of Golymin, shops offer luxuries unimaginable two decades ago: $100 Nike sneakers and wine at $20 a bottle.

Such wealth accumulation was well under way by 2015. Yet PiS won both the presidential and parliamentary elections that year. In Pultusk, in the parliamentary election, the party claimed 46% of the vote, nine percentage points above its national average. In Golymin, it got 58%.

Fatigue with the centre-right Civic Platform (PO) played a part. PO had grown complacent after eight years at the helm. In 2014 its charismatic leader, Donald Tusk, stepped down as prime minister to become president of the European Council, leaving his party rudderless. Its politicians were caught on tape discussing matters of state in filthy language. They said nothing terribly damning, but it left a bad smell.

Many voters were in any event growing fed up with finger-wagging elites telling them to work harder to get ahead. This dual weariness, with the PO and the post-1989 gospel of self-improvement, played into Mr Kaczynski’s hands. He and his brother were among the leaders of the Solidarity movement who negotiated Poland’s bloodless transition to democracy. But Jaroslaw, especially, felt that it let ex-communists off the hook too lightly.

In 2001 the Solidarity coalition split into the PO, which embodied the post-1989 consensus, and the anti-elitist PiS. It appealed to those who, like the Kaczynskis, felt they deserved more, and who sensed that, while they might be prospering, well-connected insiders were doing better. In 2005 PiS took a quarter of the vote, enough for a plurality in parliament. But its unruly coalition with two other anti-establishment parties collapsed two years later.

By 2015 Poles’ sense of being shortchanged had grown, not because they were worse off, but because their aspirations outpaced reality. Many had experience of western Europe, where 2m or so had sought work since Poland joined the EU in 2004. Interviews with denizens of Pultusk-like towns by Maciej Gdula, a sociologist at Warsaw University, reveal that PiS supporters are neither left behind nor frustrated with their lives. But they want more—and they want it now.

PiS promised them less condescension and more protection. In Andrzej Duda it found a young, affable presidential contender who outmanoeuvred Bronislaw Komorowski, the PO’s respectable but dull incumbent. Beata Szydlo, Mr Kaczynski’s pick for prime minister, was less divisive than the chairman, who kept a low profile. Aided by images of migrants pouring into western Europe, PiS exploited fears of a Muslim invasion. The centre-left split into two camps, neither of which got enough votes to enter parliament. PiS won an unprecedented absolute majority.

With control of parliament and a sympathetic president, PiS prime ministers—first Ms Szydlo and, since December, Mateusz Morawiecki—set about delivering on campaign promises. They recklessly reversed a PO pension reform by cutting the retirement age, introduced a monthly benefit of 500 zlotys ($148) per child starting with the second-born, reformed the justice system (ostensibly to make it more efficient), and went after evasion of value-added tax, raising receipts by 23%. This flurry of activity made PiS’s critics look like weak, privileged naysayers. Meanwhile, the economy continues to grow at 4%, wages are up and inflation is subdued.

PiS is aided by an underlying conservative streak in Polish society. In the 1990s not even the left-wing governments championed social liberalism. Poland’s abortion law is among Europe’s strictest. The global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment has been more #NotMe in Poland, outside a few feminist circles. Pride in Poland’s undoubted virtues—it never collaborated with the Nazis, and was the first country in the Soviet bloc to topple communism—can turn xenophobic. At last November’s independence-day march, some openly carried fascist banners.

Until 2015 pro-European elites maintained a guardrail against such sentiments. PiS has dismantled it. “No Brussels bureaucrat will tell us what democracy is,” sums up one person close to Mr Morawiecki.

What is democracy, according to PiS? First, it is majoritarian. Any constraint amounts to “legal impossibilism”, Mr Kaczynski’s term for what his liberal critics call checks and balances. The opposition is given short shrift. Legislation is pushed through as private-members’ bills, which unlike government proposals can dispense with public consultation. In 2016 40% of PiS’s 181 draft laws were submitted in this way, up from 15% and 13% in the previous two parliamentary terms.

Lacking a supermajority to amend the constitution, PiS did the next best thing and nobbled the constitutional tribunal. It replaced five judges seated by the previous parliament (including two who, admittedly, the PO had appointed irregularly when a loss at the polls looked imminent). More egregiously, the government ignored several unfavourable rulings.
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Old 22nd April 2018, 22:20
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Poland under PiS Pt 2

The second feature of PiS-style democracy is rulers’ freedom of action. The justice minister doubles as the chief prosecutor, deciding which transgressions to prosecute (Smolensk counter-protesters) and which to ignore (marchers with illegal fascist flags). A draft law would sack the entire diplomatic corps and let the foreign minister rehire whomever he wants.

In this worldview cadres are everything. According to an analysis by the Forum of Civic Development, a think-tank in Warsaw, 37 PiS laws have led to the sacking of more than 11,300 civil servants. The party decides which ex-communists are repentant patriots (PiS’s ranks are full of such figures), and which are unreformed enemies of the state. Many of the latter, including military top brass, have been purged.

If this sounds like an affront to the constitution, the PiS-dominated tribunal seems unperturbed. It judged 88 cases last year, half as many as in 2015, nearly always siding with the government. When the civil-rights ombudsman, Adam Bodnar, challenged PiS’s reforms of the tribunal, including the dodgy investiture of three judges, his complaint was rejected by a panel that included two of the judges in question.

Does PiS, which won 38% of the vote in 2015, have a mandate to rip up the post-1989 social contract? Mr Morawiecki plays down Mr Kaczynski’s talk of revolution. But, he adds, “every contract can be amended.” Polish institutions need a shake-up, he says. Courts average 685 days to enforce a contract, the fourth-slowest in Europe. None of the provisions in the judicial reforms, he says, is unique to Poland.

Wolf in Italian wool
It is a cunning sales pitch. No single move looks revolutionary in isolation. Lithuanian supreme-court justices are appointed and dismissed by parliament at the president’s request. In Denmark and Sweden ministers appoint members of the judicial council. As blatant as the state media’s populist tilt is, PiS claims it is only correcting its historically liberal bias.

Mr Morawiecki, a millionaire former banker, was promoted to prime minister in December at the orders of Mr Kaczynski, who had tired of Ms Szydlo. He is worldlier and cleverer than his predecessor, and speaks fluent English. Where Ms Szydlo shunned Brussels, he engages.

Yet when it comes to ridding the state of the (mostly imaginary) remnants of communism, Mr Morawiecki appears to be a true believer. In the 1980s his father founded a radical splinter of Solidarity. Mr Morawiecki, then a teenager, was kidnapped by the secret police, beaten and told to dig his own grave, but refused to give up his father’s whereabouts. In contrast to many party colleagues, his disdain for the old regime seems genuine. But this zeal may lead him to push Poland closer to the sort of “illiberal democracy” which Mr Orban has created in Hungary, and which Mr Kaczynski makes no secret of desiring.

Poland is not quite Hungary. Its civil society is livelier. Its economy is more diverse and lacks media oligarchs, notes Jan-Werner Müller, a scholar of populism at Princeton University. Viewership of TVP news is falling, while independent newspapers benefit from the PiS version of the “Trump bump”. Where other populists cosy up to Vladimir Putin, Mr Kaczynski loathes Russia, which he blames (with little evidence) for the Smolensk crash.

PiS is not immune to criticism. Proposals to regulate independent media have been shelved. So have efforts to outlaw all abortions, after thousands of women took to the streets. Courts have mostly dismissed the charges against anti-PiS protesters. Ms Szydlo’s decision to award herself and her cabinet 2.1m zlotys before her demotion may cost PiS in local elections in the autumn. “Bonus-gate” may explain its slide in some recent polls.

The party is not as monolithic as myth would have it, either. In March Mr Duda broke ranks and vetoed a bill which would allow communist-era soldiers to be stripped of rank. A faction leery of Mr Morawiecki’s rise has tried to clip his wings. Neither he nor Mr Kaczynski controls Zbigniew Ziobro, the Jacobin justice minister, who leads his own group in parliament.

Then there is the EU. Besides the Article 7 proceedings, a growing chorus of member states wants future EU aid to be tied to rule-of-law considerations. Faced with a choice between revolution and EU money, which flows disproportionately to its poorer rural base, PiS may think again.

But even if PiS’s wrecking job were halted, deep scars would remain. Society has split into warring camps. A PO leader looks bemused when asked if he has friends in PiS. Mr Morawiecki’s aides react similarly to a question about pals in the PO.

Purges of the military and intelligence services have strained relationships with allies. Diplomatic fallout from the Holocaust law, which America and Israel see as whitewashing the role some Poles played, has been disastrous. Poland risks becoming like Turkey, a prickly ally important only because of its strategic location, says a Washington insider.

The economy, though healthy, could be better given the ruddy global outlook. Its rate of convergence with western Europe has slowed. A tight labour market and extravagant handouts have fuelled consumption (the government has doled out 42.6bn zlotys in the new child benefit alone since 2016) but not private investment. Grzegorz Baczewski of Leviatan, a bosses’ association, blames this in part on regulatory uncertainty. Laws affecting entire sectors are rushed through parliament. A ban on Sunday trading was passed in January and came into force in March. Mr Morawiecki’s talk of national champions and “national capital” risks putting off foreigners.

https://www.economist.com/sites/defa...421_EUC297.png

State capitalism of the sort the prime minister seems to favour may weigh on productivity. This needs to rise for growth to persist as the population, which dipped below 38m in 2015, continues to shrink. Few expect the child benefit to reverse the trend. In the short term it may constrain the supply of labour. According to one estimate, the child benefit has discouraged 103,000 women from work. Labour-force participation among young women is at a 19-year low. The lower retirement age will make matters worse. This, plus the expected fall in EU aid after 2020, prompted Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, two rating agencies, to revise Poland’s potential GDP growth rate down to 1.5-2.6% in the next decade.

Worst of all, PiS’s assault on Poland’s institutions undermines citizens’ trust in them. Its campaign to paint the judiciary as a corrupt clique—complete with billboards depicting a drunk-driving judge—doubtless contributed to falling confidence in the justice system, down from 41% in 2015 to 32%, according to a Eurobarometer poll.

At best, PiS’s illiberal reforms might be reversed by the next party that wins an election. But they have set a precedent: future governments may repeat the cycle of court-packing and purges. In the worst case, Poland may have started down the authoritarian road already travelled by Turkey and Hungary. Today few see this as likely. But when such things shift, they shift faster than anyone expects. https://s100.copyright.com/AppDispat...derBeanReset=0
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Old 23rd May 2018, 17:30
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Zlotys for tots
Subsidising babies has bolstered Poland’s ruling party—so far
But it could prove painfully expensive in the end
THE ECONOMIST WARSAW May 10th 2018

POLITICIANS elsewhere kiss babies. Polish ones subsidise them. In a new report by the OECD, a club of mostly wealthy countries, Poland was the only one of its 35 members where families receive more in state handouts than they pay in tax. For a single-income Polish family on an average wage with two children, the average net personal tax rate is minus 4.8%, compared with an OECD average of 14%. While the rate has crept up in most of the countries surveyed, in Poland it has dipped by five percentage points since 2016.

Since coming to power in 2015, the socially conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) has championed families, albeit only of the traditional heterosexual sort. Its flagship 500Plus programme offers families a monthly handout of 500 zloty ($139) per child, from the second child onwards (and from the first in poor households). Since the launch in 2016, the government has splurged a total of 42.6bn zloty to 3.7m children from 2.4m families. Recently it proposed new measures focusing on motherhood, including a bonus for having a second child within two years of the first. Meanwhile, PiS politicians have sympathised with church-backed proposals to tighten restrictions on abortion, already among the tightest in Europe.

Poland needs children. The country has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, at around 1.4. (The EU average is 1.6.) Already employers are struggling to fill jobs, despite a stream of workers from neighbouring Ukraine. At a PiS convention on April 14th, Beata Szydlo, who was demoted to deputy prime minister in December, said that “our biggest challenge” was to increase the birth rate. A video clip released by the health ministry in November urges Poles literally to multiply like rabbits.

For the time being PiS’s efforts may be working. Over 400,000 children were born in Poland in 2017, around 20,000 more than the previous year, buoyed by low unemployment and rising wages. Extreme child poverty has fallen, too. Yet the baby boom could prove short-lived. Meanwhile, PiS’s natalist push has angered some women, who resent being treated like incubators. Same-sex couples, who are not recognised by the state, feel slighted by the government’s traditional attitudes.

There are economic risks, too. Apart from its cost, critics warn that 500Plus encourages parents to drop out of work to qualify for the subsidy for the first child. In Poland, the inactivity trap—the disincentive to return to employment after inactivity—is one of the highest in the EU, according to a simulation by the European Commission. Since 2015, it has risen sharply to double the EU average. Already there are signs that mothers are quitting paid work. According to an estimate by the Institute for Structural Research in Warsaw, some 100,000 women were absent from the labour market in the first half of 2017 because of the 500Plus benefit; the effect was strongest among low-educated women and in medium-sized towns. 500Plus has been a political boon for PiS, which continues to lead in opinion polls, ahead of the centrist opposition. But it could make Poland poorer. https://www.economist.com/europe/201...g-party-so-far
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